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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  February 14, 2012 12:30am-1:00am EST

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>> good evening from los angeles. i am tavis smiley. we will have a discussion with thomas edsall. he discussed says politics and the current presidential race. and his new tax called "the age of austerity: how scarcity will remake american politics." the debate about austerity in this country and how it will be a central issue in the race for the white house. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it is the cornerstone that we all know. it is not just a street or a boulevard, but a place where walmart stands with the
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community to make everyday better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from and viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute tavis: it thomas edsall is a professional art -- prof. of journalism affairs. he writes and online column for the new york times. his new column is called "the age of austerity: how scarcity will remake american politics." thank you for all the years of good reading courtesy of your penmanship. >> i am delighted to be here. >> let me start by asking whether or not austerity is overrated. >> it is a great political tool.
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what has happened since 2008 with the economic collapse and deficit and debt going way up, austerity and has dominated all political thinking. that is all that congress did last year, cut, cut, cut. the deficit was out of hand and we would go broke. whether it should be or should not be, it was. that set the tone in washington of zero sum politics. if new win, i lose. that took the polarization we already had between republicans and democrats and turned it into a pocket book fight. the results last year were pretty evident. >> one of the lessons to be
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learned about austerity from greece, or is it too soon to draw lessons? >> my own view, i am not an economist, trying to impose austere policies on a country on the ropes is not the wisest idea. not just greece. england is having troubles. all of the peripheral countries in europe. at a time when the whole country is contracting, you then contract public spending on top of that, you restrict growth and you worsen the conditions at that moment. there is a pretty strong economic consensus on this that at that juncture you should spend more, even though it may sound illogical to some people, when the revenues are down. then do the cuts later when the
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economy is back in gear and running. >> why does austerity always seemed to be the default position? why is that were politicians go first? >> you have the 2008 election. it looks like the democrats have finally put together a majority. republicans are anxious and fearful that the republicans have a new majority. the conservative majority has control politics for nearly 40 years. then the economic collapse occurs. that gives a whole new edge to the tea party. think in terms of how their household budget works. we have less money. we have to cut back. it gives the republican party a huge leverage in politics and
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public policy making. they can portray obama as being a big spender at a time driving up the deficits, driving us into a european entitlement society. it is an ideal circumstance for one party. the democrats are split on this issue. half of them are austerity democrats. half of them are not. you have one party fully in favor of austerity and the other divided and uncertain. in that circumstance, the people that are united are going to win. tavis: thank you very much for that. i am enjoying best. i am learning from it. why are democrats divided on this particular issue? if you consider what the democratic base is, how can
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democrats be divided on austerity? >> democrats are always divided. that is inherent in the party. there are divisions in class, race, and ethnicity it within the democratic party that are less so within the republican party which is an overwhelmingly white party. the democratic party has a very substantial -- one of its biggest growing blocks are fairly well up skit -- upscale well-educated white professionals. at the same time, there are more poor people. in terms of having a real voice, the people that attend a convention come from this more elite sector.
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have labor unions, poor people, these are real tensions. you then have racial tensions. blacks are overwhelmingly democratic. hispanics are pretty solidly democratic. the party is just now getting to be tipping point where the party itself will soon become majority minority. it has not yet achieved that point. that is a real state of flux. if conflicts become more intense. if new ad is sense of austerity , everybody is trying to intense what they have it -- protect what they have. you have ethnic conflicts. you add to that austerity. you make it a very nasty fight.
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you have added as an underlying issue within the democratic party. >> give me a second to set this question up. i want you to unpack for me a bit more your notion that this all white republican party is pro austerity. tavis: here is what i do not get. poverty may be over -- the party may be overwhelmingly white. party is no longer color-coded. the former middle class are not all democrats. i think you see where i'm heading with this. there are many in the republican party who have been just as hurt in this economic downturn as the democrats. how can there party abandoned them in the name of austerity? >> the people who are really
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hurt are more democratic. when you start cutting social programs, there are more democrats the republicans. tavis: agreed, but not exclusively. >> a lot of people see obama and the democratic party as trying to take away from them. they see obamacare as a program providing health care to poor and low income people that are not covered by any health insurance. this is partially financed in cuts in medicare which is the older programs serving a much whiter population. you go down the generational ladder. the oldest people are the most white. the young as people are the most minority. you have an older white
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constituency getting medicare but seeing it cut to pay for obamacare. they see themselves taking a hit in order for money to go to them to put it in the context that they see things. the tea party in 2010 that saw a huge surge of senior voters switching to the republican party. you saw a big surge in the 2011 of white voters voting in larger numbers and in bigger margins for republicans. white strategy worked in 2010. tavis: i hear the argument, convoluted that it might be, it is possible, but it is not persuasive. you think that i could be terribly politically nike or stock on stupid to somehow blame -- this is in defense of mr. obama.
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watchers of this program every night know that i'm not defending president obama. you cannot make any connection end to wall street. to the rich and the lucky and the greedy. obamacare just started and has not kicked in yet. how do you make the argument that it is obamacare and not the greedy wall street banksters. republicans and democrats bail them out. you want to blame obama for this? >> i cannot explain the rationality or the lack of it in the political system. the tea party has not been an anti-wall street movement. they are not calling for tougher regulation. they are not calling for ending too big to fail. it is all cut the budget, cut
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spending, cut the programs that serve what they see as the undeserving poor. i agree with you that wall street ripped off the country to an extraordinary degree. it has not translated into the political system. i wish i had a good answer for that. tavis: keep on trying. you have not gotten there yet. >> you are absolutely right to raise the question. one of the amazing things, it is not just in this country, conservative party since the economic collapse have been on the rise here and in europe. the social democratic party or the democratic party here. social democratic party is, all of them have taken a hit since
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the economic collapse. there has not been this reaction that you are describing that they may be perfectly rational. who should you be mad at because you are out of work? not obamacare. it does not go into effect until 2014. tavis: it does not equate for me. >> it is not clicking. tavis: since you are covering the presidential race and writing this blog, where do you think this conversation about austerity and scarcity is going to go in the presidential race? if he pulls this off, given his background, given who obama is and who romney is, where does the conversation about austerity and scarcity go?
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>> mitt romney has staked out a position where he wants to prevent the emergence of an entitlement society. i am not sure he realizes fully what he is saying. there has been a study that came out this last week showing that 90% of entitlement spending does not go to poor people. it goes to all people, it goes to people who are disabled. it is not being channelled into welfare. it is being channeled into programs for people who need it. he is using entitlement in a way to describe welfare, not entitlement as it is. he is going after entitlements. obama wants to turn this country into a european welfare state mentality where more people are getting money from the government that are making money. he has moved himself personally,
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as has the republican party, moved considerably to the right on these issues. obama i do not think likes this kind of fight. he has also moved more to the left. romney really was a moderate republican back in his massachusetts days. obama out was a moderate, centrist democrat. both of them being pushed into positions that are much more is ideological. we are going to have an interesting ideological 2012. tavis: do you believe that obama has moved to the left or he is offering up a populist message at campaign time? >> the latter. he thought that he could bring
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love and consensus to washington. it turned out there wasn't a market for love and consensus in washington. there is a political war taking place and he was not able to step into it and bring everybody together. tavis: this is a fascinating piece. what was the take away when you asked people on the right to ask what people on the left are getting right. you ask people on the left what folks on the right are doing right. >> people on the left or more generous. tavis: that surprised you? >> and there has been a lot of studies of the character of what it is to be a conservative or a liberal. at conservatives are tougher.
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they fight harder. they fight for their own. they are willing to win for themselves and impose pain on the opposition. liberals are much less willing to do that. they would much rather give to everybody. they conceded a fair amount of ground to conservatives. liberals do care more about people. they bring some compassion that people need to pay attention to. they should never be left in charge. it is likely role for the left is to be advisory. keep us in check, but we need to be running the show. the left never made that
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distinction. there are some interesting things that conservatives have to say. they would not say, we should be the ones in charge no matter what. tavis: after the winter solstice break, the occupy movement is going to come out strong in the spring. where do you see that fitting into the movement about austerity in america? >> they have already had a substantial effect. before they surfaced, the whole argument was on budget cutting and austerity. they added to that debate. they added the issues of inequality and the lack of mobility, which are two key issues. we have had much more inequality. americans tolerated in equality because people thought that they could get ahead.
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if you have the mobility on top of any quality, then people are not going to be happy campers. if you are stuck on the bottom and you are stuck their three- year adulthood, that is not a nice life to look forward to. they have raised those issues and put them on the table. it will be interesting to see what role they play, especially during the election and as we get to the conventions this year. will they conduct major protests at both elections? will it actually hurt the democrats to see the protests get violent? these are a lot of ifs. tavis: if you said to me that this age of austerity would
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reposition american politics, i would buy that. you suggest that it is going to remake american politics. repositioning the debate is one thing. redefining america is quite another. tell me why you make the latter argument. >> we have had a country that up until recently you could pretty much depend on continued growth. you look at gross domestic product, the stock market, all of these things are upward trajectory is over the years. when you are bargaining in congress, you can say, conservatives, you can have some tax cuts, liberals, you can have some more social spending and you can cut a deal. not everybody is happy, but every -- everybody gets a piece of this bigger pie. what happens now, especially if austerity, whether it is right or wrong, becomes ingrained in
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the system, you have a zero sum or negative sum situation, for every game that you make, i have got to take a hit, why has to take a hit and the other has to hold on desperately to what we have got. you see that in politics now. the republicans are determined not to give anything on a tax hike issue. the report -- the public supported tax hikes on the wealthy by strong margins. they are not going to cave. they forced all of the reductions in spending to be focused on domestic spending, not on tax increases. tavis: how much of this debate about austerity has purely to do with ideology and nothing to do with ideas. >> i do not know if you could say nothing. there are believers.
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an austerity debate favors conservatives. if you have an austerity debate, it favors conservatives for two reasons. you are cutting and they want to cut. that atmosphere means that people in the middle starts thinking about, i have got to protect what i have. i do not want to give anything to anyone else. liberal posture requires a willingness to give to others. that works when you have an expanding pie. when you do not have an expanding pie, everybody starts hunkering down. tavis: i believe that austerity leads to nativism. i do not think that is a winning strategy long term. >> you are talking reality. i am talking politics.
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there is nothing wrong with talking reality. you are absolutely right. arizona is a great case study. in 2003, things are growing like crazy and everybody is building. they passed by referendum a huge expansion in the medicaid program so that every adult who was poor qualified to get medicare. they knew that a lot of the people getting medicare would be hispanic in arizona. they are being nice, and generous, giving. come 2008, they have become the lead dogs in the anti-immigrant fight. in a time of prosperity, they take a liberal position. things go downhill, and they get nasty. tavis: just a minute to go.
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the budget that president obama has just offered up, are there any signals about how this is going to trent? >> the budget this year is going to be gridlock fight. he is staking out the position that we have got to spend some money now on infrastructure, on community colleges that will start traing people for jobs. taking what a lot of economists tend to agree with that you have to -- going for austerity is not a good strategy. he set himself up by supporting a lot of the austerity principles are early in his administration. he is trying to regain control of the debate. romney is taking up the opposite position. the budget will be a big fight. i do not think it will get anywhere. >> the president staking out one
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position, how does his embrace of this super pac reality make this even more muddied? >> it makes it a lot more money. the people who give to the super pacs are the rich constituents. guys that can write $1 million checks. tavis: or more. >> that is not the core constituency of the democratic party. it accentuate the divides. tavis: his new text is called "the age of austerity: how scarcity will remake american politics." thomas edsall, an honor to have you on the program. i enjoyed the conversation. that is our show for tonight. keep the faith. >> for more information on
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today'show, a visit tavis smiley at tavis: join me next time for a look of the ever-changing gop presidential race and grammy winner anthony hamilton. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it is the cornerstone that we all know. that is not just a street or a boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make everyday better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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